The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) suggests that anyone 45 year old or older consider being tested for diabetes. They place a strong recommendation on being tested if you're of age and also overweight. And since the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts the number of Americans that are obese at over two thirds the population, many of us should be concerned about our risk. But what other factors should be at the top of our minds?

The answer is ethnicity—and the data gathered by the CDC is staggering. In fact, ethnicity is universally considered a top risk factor by the NIDDK, The American Diabetes Association, and the CDC. Here are the numbers:

  • Non-hispanic African Americans are 1.6 times more likely to have diabetes than non-hispanic whites of the same age
  • Hispanic/Latino Americans are 1.5 times more likely to have diabetes than non-hispanic whites of the same age
  • Mexican Americans, the largest Hispanic/Latino sub-group, are over twice as likely to have diabetes as non-hispanic whites of similar age
  • Residents of Puerto Rico are 1.8 times more likely to have diabetes
  • American Indians and Alaskan natives, on average, are 2.2 times more likely to have diabetes than non-hispanic whites of similar age
  • Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders are approximately 2 times as likely to have diabetes than non-hispanic whites of the same age

In addition, African Americans are 2.6 to 5.6 times more likely to suffer from kidney disease, a debilitating complication that results from diabetes (especially untreated or uncontrolled diabetes.) African Americans are 2.7 times more likely to suffer from lower limb amputations as a result of diabetes. And African Americans are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy, or blindness as a result of diabetes, than non-hispanic whites.

But What About Culture?
Food is central to the celebration of many cultures, and the idea of abstaining from these signature dishes may be an unrealistic one. A good suggestion, though, is to consult with a dietician for alternative ways to prepare these foods with less fat and sodium. By doing so, you can hold onto your history while preserving your future.

If large family gatherings are central to your culture and food is the mainstay, try arranging activities before and after the meal that get people moving. Getting active is an important means of counterbalancing your predisposition to diabetes and its complications.

Remember, lifestyle choices are important for all of us. But if you are a member of one of the aforementioned ethnic groups, it's crucial to make healthy lifestyle changes, especially if you are 45 years old or older, inactive, overweight, or have a family history of diabetes.

Community initiatives are being undertaken by the American Diabetes Association and the National Diabetes Education Program. Find out if you can be a part of educating your family and friends on the risk factors that put them in danger of developing a disease that is highly preventable.